Charts of the day: Gun violence in America declining over last 20 years

I’ll apologize in advance for not recalling who sent me the links to the National Institute of Justice and Bureau of Justice Statistics, both official government sites for crime-related data.  Both have information which should be considered in the rush to legislate after the horrific mass murder in Newtown.  The NIJ, using data from the BJS, charts the use of various weapons types in homicides over a 30-year period — and clearly, the use of guns had a peak, but it dissipated almost 20 years ago:

Homicides committed with firearms peaked in 1993 at 17,075, after which the figure steadily fell, leveling off in 1999 at 10,117. Gun-related homicides have increased slightly each year since 2002.

Firearms play a significant role in homicides by circumstance, but the circumstances involved show that it’s rare for otherwise law-abiding citizens to be involved in a gun-related homicide.  More than 90% of all gang-related homicides involve gun use, for instance, while the rate of felony homicides involving guns have risen to nearly 80%.  The rate of firearm use in homicides from personal arguments has declined slightly over the last thirty years, even as gun sales have increased, showing that there is no causation or even correlation to support the idea that guns escalate arguments.

This chart, though, shows a dramatic change innonfatal firearm-related violent crime over the last 20 years — but in a surprising direction, given all the fury in the current debate:

Over the last 20 years, the firearm crime rate has dropped, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, from 6 victims per 1,000 residents in 1994 to 1.4 victims per 1,000 residents in 2009.  The 1.4/1000 is the same rate as in 2004, the last year in which the “assault weapons” ban was in place.  Part of this is from an overall decline in violent crime over the same period, but that doesn’t account for all of the improvement.  Firearm crimes accounted for 11% of all violent crime in 1993 and 1994, but was 8% of all such crime in 2009.

This decline took place in an era where gun sales increased and carry permit laws were liberalized.  It may assume too much to claim that that increased gun ownership and carrying caused the decline, but it’s clear that the correlation runs in that direction and not the opposite.  So what, other than the grief over the senseless massacre of children in Newtown, drives the current push for gun confiscation and control? Glenn Reynolds has a thought about that:

2. Is Hate A Liberal Value? A 20-year-old lunatic stole some guns and killed people. Who’s to blame? According to a lot of our supposedly rational and tolerant opinion leaders, it’s . . . the NRA, a civil-rights organization whose only crime was to oppose laws banning guns. (Ironically, it wasn’t even successful in Connecticut, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation.)

The hatred was intense. One Rhode Island professor issued a call — later deleted — for NRA head Wayne LaPierre’s “head on a stick.” People like author Joyce Carol Oates and actress Marg Helgenberger wished for NRA members to be shot. So did Texas Democratic Party official John Cobarruvias, who also called the NRA a “terrorist organization,” and Texas Republican congressman Louis Gohmert a “terror baby.”

Nor were reporters, who are supposed to be neutral, much better. As The Atlantic’sJeffrey Goldberg commented, “Reporters on my Twitter feed seem to hate the NRA more than anything else, ever. ”

Calling people murderers and wishing them to be shot sits oddly with claims to be against violence. The NRA — like the ACLU, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers or Planned Parenthood — exists to advocate policies its members want. It’s free speech. The group-hate directed at the NRA is ugly and says ugly things about those consumed by it.

This has unleashed a lot of ugliness, and most of it self-righteous and ignorant ugliness.  Before we set off to infringe on the rights of tens of millions of Americans in an effort to prevent the unpreventable and demonize those who oppose that push, perhaps we should take a look at the data to see if it supports the assumption that we’re in the middle of an ever-increasing bloodbath.  If not — and the data seems pretty clear about that — then perhaps the solution to preventing a few mentally/emotionally/spiritually twisted individuals from wreaking mass murder lies somewhere else than disarming everyone who abides by the law.

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